music in (and out of) fashion

I was reading a Facebook post by an old friend of mine, who was bemused by his sudden realization of his advancing age due to the change in what was being programmed at concerts these days.  He noted the shift to much more programming of the Shostakovich string quartets, for example, and the virtual disappearance of the music of Aaron Copland from concerts (at least in his area).  It got me to thinking about how various pieces (or types of pieces) come in and out of fashion as times and tastes change.

We used to perform (and hear performed) a lot more Copland than we do now, at least here in Portland.  We just did Appalachian Spring here last weekend, but it had been about five years since we’d previously done it.  We haven’t done the Third Symphony since Murry Sidlin programmed it, which is a real shame, since it’s a wonderful piece, both as a showcase for the orchestra and as a piece that would go over well with audiences.  His other ballet music, such as Billy the Kid and Rodeo, show up much less frequently, as do El Salon Mexico and Music for the Theater, a piece that I love.

Though ever hugely popular, the music of Hindemith seems to be getting even more rare to encounter on the concert stage – even accessible pieces such as Nobilissima Visione, the Mathis der Maler symphony, and the slightly more popular Symphonic Metamorphosis.  It’s too bad, because he also wrote a couple of other cool pieces, including Concert Music for Strings and Brass, and a Concerto for Orchestra (as well as the Violin Concerto, which we did a couple years back with Leila Josefowicz).

Overtures also seem to get less attention than they used to, when the standard concert format tended towards the “overture, concerto, intermission, symphony” format.  There are so many wonderful Weber overtures, including Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Euryanthe.  Rossini overtures also used to be a concert staple, with the operas The Silken Ladder, An Italian in Algiers, The Barber of Seville, and the Thieving Magpie all having amazing and delightful overtures.  The Wagner opera overtures seem to get fairly often performed, but the Mozart opera overtures seem to be out of fashion these days.  I can’t remember the last time we did the overtures to Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan Tutte, or Magic Flute.

As for concertos, it was great to do the Liszt First Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough this season, it used to be a common concert staple, but less pianists seem to tour with it these days (and even less the Second Concerto).  Busoni used to show up on all sorts of late 19th century – early 20th century programs, but you’re hard-pressed to hear much of his music nowadays.  I’d love to hear his massive Piano Concerto (with Garrick Olson, a champion of the piece) or some of his orchestra music.

This only scratches the surface – do you have any repertoire that you haven’t heard for years that you’d like to hear live?  Drop me a line or write a comment below.

4 Replies to “music in (and out of) fashion”

  1. great article. thanx.

    i certainly agree that we could use more busoni on concert programs these days. as for string quartets, i would prefer a bit less shosty in lieu of more benji (britten).

    if i had one piece to choose to hear live right about now, it’s sibelius’s “tapiola.”

    i sent in a note mentioning that work to carlos recently. i offered to bribe him with dried reindeer meat from finnish lapland.

    as i never got a reply, i’m now ready to up the ante.

    so, carlos, if you’re reading this, how ’bout i throw in a bottle of linie, norwegian aquavit to, uh, “lubricate” the deal? ahhhh, i can just about hear those opening timpani strokes bouncing off the tip of my cyber-pen . . .


    my 2nd live choice would be louis andriessen’s “de staat.” within the wide arena of so-called minimalist-oriented pieces, “de staat” is THE standout work – imo.

    a friend heard it live in amsterdam a few years back & said he was so pumped by the experience that he couldn’t sleep a wink that night.


    btw, it was great to see maestro andriessen just get the grawemeyer award.

  2. PYP is playing both Hindemith (Metamorphosis in May) and Copland (Chamber Version of Appalachian Spring in January) this year. I also miss those old Overtures! This year, We’re doing the Brahms Tragic as OSO is, but also Lalo’s formerly popular Le Roi d’Ys and Suppe’s Morning Noon and Night in Vienna.

    I wish the Copland 3rd wasn’t so taxing for the winds and brass, or I would program it right away. For OSO, it probably has to do with all the extra players needed. It’s too bad.

    1. True, and kudos to you for programming those pieces. Youth orchestras seem to traditionally go for repertoire off the beaten path, or against the fashion of the times – which is great – I just wish that it were possible for more professional orchestras to be as adventurous, in spite of all the reasons not to.

  3. yes, more overtures.

    how about szymanowski’s “concert overture, opus 12?” it’s a terrific piece that recalls richard strauss’s bombast, brilliance of orchestration AND is considerably more succinct.

    hey, speaking of szymanowski, he’s one of my fave. composers. i was very grateful that carlos included his ravishingly beautiful 1st violin concerto a few seasons back.

    now, how about some local live renditions of karol’s:

    1/ symphony 3
    2/ harnasie
    3/ stabat mater

    these 3 works are molto glorioso.

    trust me.

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